Wildlife Management Institute

WMI Outdoor News Bulletin Supreme Court Decides Not to Hear Roadless Rule Case
Supreme Court Decides Not to Hear Roadless Rule Case PDF Print E-mail

image of Bighorn National Forest in Wyoming, Credit: David Lawrence, Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition by the state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association to overturn the 2001 roadless rule, reports the Wildlife Management Institute. The rule has been the subject of regular legal wrangling in the years since it was put in place, but the Supreme Court’s decision on October 1 puts to rest one of the last two remaining legal battles about the controversial rule.

“The ten-plus years of our legal campaign to defend the Roadless Rule have seen many twists and turns in the legal process, but one thing hasn’t changed—the undeveloped forest lands at issue remain some of the most environmentally important public lands in our country. They produce clean water and clean air, offer a last refuge to imperiled wildlife across a warming, changing landscape, and provide world-class recreation opportunities for campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen, and bird watchers. Americans love these lands, and it has been an honor to represent those American values before the courts for the last decade,” commented Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that has represented the case.

Established in the waning days of the Clinton Administration, the roadless rule was intended to protect areas with limited or no existing roads from future road development. Originally, the rule protected more than 58 million acres of national forest land in 38 states from road building.  State-based agreements in Idaho and Colorado now cover more than 13 million acres leaving 45 million acres within the federal roadless designation.

Opponents, however, have claimed that the roadless rule has created de facto wilderness areas and has limited potential for grazing and mineral leases as well as timber harvest, all of which require some road development. This position was the grounding for Wyoming’s challenge of the rule that charged that only Congress could create wilderness areas under the 1964 Wilderness Act.  Their legal challenge was supported by U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer in 2008 but was overturned in 2011 by the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  That decision was upheld this month when the nation’s highest court refused to take the case.

“While I am disappointed in the decision, I am ready to move on continuing to work with the (U.S.) Forest Service about these concerns,” Wyoming Governor Matt Mead said in a short statement.

The decision by the Supreme Court means that there is only one remaining active case, brought forward by the state of Alaska affecting the Tongass National Forest, being considered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. (jas)